By Sherry Shrallow
November 16, 2010, was the day that changed my life forever. I was a vibrant, healthy (or so I thought) 56-year-old woman who ate what I thought was a healthy Mediterranean diet, exercised vigorously at least five times a week, and was of normal weight. Looking at me, one would never think that my life could have ended that day.
On that fateful day I was sitting on my couch in my psychotherapy office where I treated clients when all of a sudden, out of the blue, I felt nauseous, and started sweating profusely from head to toe. I then became lightheaded and passed out. When I came to, I said to myself, “I think I’m having a heart attack!”
I called my husband Dale and told him to call 911. My office door was locked and I knew even in my weakened state that I had to unlock that door to save my life. I crawled across the floor and unlatched the lock. When the paramedics arrived within a few minutes they took one look at me, gave me an aspirin and told me that they too thought I was in the midst of a heart attack.
Arriving at the hospital within 10 minutes I remember being whisked into the emergency room, looking at the cardiologist who was waiting for me, and saying to him, “Please don’t let me die.” He looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
His promise was almost broken when, in the catheterization lab, he inserted the catheter into what was my 99% blocked right coronary artery. I chose that very moment to vomit, which caused the catheter to dissect my aorta. I coded three times that day, and as the surgeon told my husband on his rush into the operating room, “You’d better gather your family. I give your wife about a 20% chance of surviving.”
He performed an emergency bypass surgery and repaired my aorta.
But I survived. After two weeks in the hospital followed by another two weeks at a rehabilitation center, I was finally able to go home. How could this have happened to me? When I asked the cardiologist what I could do to prevent this from happening to me again, his reply was, “Nothing really. Just eat a low-fat diet, and reduce your salt intake.” I knew I had to look for answers on my own.
My sister, who worked as a nurse practitioner at The Cleveland Clinic, told me about Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s work with heart patients and his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. I immediately went to the bookstore to get it and finished it that very day. That was it. I was going to start eating a whole food plant-based diet that excluded oils.
The results have been spectacular. My cholesterol dropped from 175 down to 130 in a matter of a few months, and my LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, improved dramatically as well. I was healing my heart disease with plant foods!
As a result of this life changing experience, I have continued to educate myself and to teach others how they too can prevent or reverse heart disease. I received my certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T.Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and started teaching others how they too can rid themselves of this disease that need not exist. I started a cooking club to bring people together to learn how to make these delicious foods, which created a supportive community for anyone interested in transitioning to this lifestyle.
In 2018 I became a board member of Plant Based Nutrition Movement and chaired its culinary committee. We have already trained twenty new cooking coaches in the Chicagoland area, expanding my cooking club model throughout our city.
The best news of all is the results I received from a nuclear scan in 2019 that showed that my once diseased right coronary artery has healed sufficiently to now provide all of the nutrients and oxygen to my heart. The bypassed artery that was taken from my leg has been “fired” and is no longer needed.
People often say, “This is such a miracle!” My response to them is, “No, the food is the miracle!”
As Hippocrates said many years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” Truer words were never spoken.